Our previous blog looked at the benefits DevOps could bring when deploying 5G. But what are the practicalities of using DevOps in the telco industry and how could it change the way operators and vendors work together? Could a little ‘give and take’ help smooth the path to DevOps and 5G?
Adopting 5G and DevOps – a big ask for operators
My discussions with operators over the past twelve months has shown me that they clearly want to deploy 5G services in an efficient and agile manner, but some challenges stand in their way.
Firstly, the 5G Core network uses a Service Based Architecture for scalable and enhanced communication between its components, which means it is a highly dynamic and variable deployment.
Furthermore, operators offering a competitive and dynamic mix of 5G use cases will need to run shorter testing cycles to deliver more rapid updates. This is best addressed by adopting a cloud native and microservices based environment, with DevOps practices used to ensure the multiple instances of network functions are quickly and efficiently kept up to date.
To meet the challenges of this dynamic environment, operators will need to set up new processes, capabilities and infrastructure to be able to deploy 5G use cases seamlessly. In my experience, only a few feel they have the skill, capability and budget to take on this task alone. While many operators are deploying 5G networks, most would be glad of some help with the DevOps part of the equation. As a company that has already used DevOps extensively in its own operations, Nokia is ideally placed to lend a hand.
Telco operators face their own DevOps challenges
Large web-scale companies seized on DevOps as a way of delivering their SaaS (software-as-a-service) offerings in an agile and efficient manner. DevOps CI/CD (Continuous integration/ Continuous deployment) is well suited to this because it is based on continuous feedback. It constantly feeds new verified software and associated artifacts to customers to accept, test and then deploy in their own production environment.
However, I believe the telco industry has some special requirements.
The first is the need for strict network reliability to achieve the KPI commitments operators make to their customers. This is not a natural match for the highly changeable and adaptable nature of DevOps.
Another challenge is that operators have heterogeneous networks, in complete contrast to the more monolithic, wholly-owned setups of IT/web-scale companies designed specifically for their SaaS offerings.
Lastly and most importantly, DevOps in the telco industry must deliver software to diverse, unique customer environments as compared to a single-owned service of web-scale companies.
Making it work with close collaboration
Balancing all these needs and requirements demands a more collaborative approach.
Nokia believes that a telco vendor’s DevOps environment can be merged with that of the operator. Essentially, this involves using an automated workflow that delivers software, documentation, test case and deployment components to the operator for continuous deployment and testing. In the same way, comments and requests can be fed back to the telco vendor to adapt and improve the software.
This is a much more collaborative and seamless way of working than the traditional operator/vendor relationship – the operator passes some development work to the vendor and the vendor extends its DevOps processes into the operator’s environment.
The schematic shows this win-win situation, where tasks can be shifted from the operator to the vendor or vice versa within Nokia’s End-to-end DevOps Digital Pipeline.
E2E DevOps Digital Pipeline
Close collaboration blurs the lines between the two organizations. Of course, this is not a one-size-fits-all approach and could be adapted to suit how far the operator has reached in adopting DevOps.
Such a collaborative relationship between vendor and operator can be mutually beneficial for both parties in quickly achieving the benefits of DevOps. Delay is not an option because, as we know, the 5G era of a services-driven network is approaching fast.
Clearly, being ready for 5G success means being prepared to give and take with your telco vendors.
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